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Mideast Conflict Grows After Suicide Bombing, Web Attack

By Tracy Wilkinson

A Palestinian with a backpack full of explosives pedaled his bike into the perimeter of an Israeli army post Thursday and set off a tremendous blast, stoking Israeli panic over the likelihood of a wave of deadly terrorist attacks.

The 23-year-old student of Islamic law killed himself and injured one Israeli soldier at an isolated base in the Palestinian-controlled Gaza Strip. It was the first suicide bombing in a month of Israeli-Palestinian clashes and may have been timed to coincide with the fifth anniversary of the slaying of a militant Islamic Jihad leader.

Israelis were already on high alert after military commanders repeatedly warned of bombings by Palestinian extremists in crowded public places.

Israelis have been staying home in droves. Restaurants and open-air markets are virtually deserted. Security agents are searching every vehicle that drives into local shopping malls. Police are boarding and inspecting public buses, which are nearly empty. Gun sales are reported up by as much as 50 percent.

And as if that’s not enough, another war front has opened in cyberspace. Pro-Palestinian computer hackers managed to paralyze Web sites for Israel’s parliament, army and Foreign Ministry by flooding them with e-mails or electronic signals known as pings. The army Web site was able to go back on line by hiring AT&T as a backup provider after Israel’s main Internet connection, Netvision, came under attack. But by late Thursday the Foreign Ministry site had been in the dark for 30 hours.

The cyber spat began earlier this month when Israelis en masse bombarded a Web site belonging to Hezbollah, an Islamic movement in Lebanon, causing the site to crash. Hezbollah had captured three Israeli soldiers along Israel’s border with Lebanon.

While the attacks have so far been limited to informational sites, it could grow into serious damage.